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  • Beth Hoffman

The Waiting Game, Again


Last summer the waiting game looked like this:

John talks to his dad. His dad looks agreeable, interested even, in the ideas John has for the future of the farm. He seems to listen, then declares that he "needs to think about it." A few days later, casually, he states yet again, "John, I just want to know what you are planning to do with the farm." Calmly, John states his ideas again, explaining the same things they went over just a few days prior.


They go over the lease line by line together, and more than once his dad said he would sign. Then the very next day, dad pulls out of his back pocket a small note pad with a list.

"John I want you to take a look at this" he says.

It is a list of farm equipment - a 100 horse power front-wheel assist tractor, a bailer, a rake, etc, etc, equaling at least $150,000. And down at the end of the notebook, the kicker. "John promises to buy all of this equipment, or the lease is null and void."

"What do you think about that," he asks John.

"Not much," John replies.

Voices get louder, fists hit the table. John's sisters storm out, in solidarity with John. "You know what this is?" John tells his father. "This is not me farming. This is just you telling me what to do." He walks out.

Two days later, his dad is back. "John, I just want to know what you are planning to do with the land."

And so, the waiting game, again. It is agonizingly slow, this process of transitioning the land and trying to plan our future. And although there are literally thousands, if not millions, of other families going through this same process at the same time (I will write a lot more about that in the coming months), it feels really confusing.

But a big part of me also understands. This process is about much more than land. It is about a man's livelihood, it is about the place he has labored day in and day out for the last 60 years. It is his link to this world - his reason to get up every day and have purpose, a reason to live. In his mind, giving up control of the land in effect means resigning himself to nothingness, to having no reason to get up in the morning. This process to him means the end. It means death.

In other words, while we want to get on with life and sign the lease, John's dad is in no rush whatsoever to get on with death. Death is not a reason to get up in the morning. Death is not a motivator when you like living and are scared of the end.

Some days the waiting game makes me furious; on other days, it feels like it buys me time to be here in the moment and not think about my future. It allows me to ignore the scary prospect of moving, and let's me pretend I will be a city girl forever.

But the wait can't go on. We both turned 50 this year, and whether we like it or not, the amount of time we have as able bodied farmers grows shorter. We will have to make decisions about the next stage of our lives, soon.